Planting Seeds

Planting Seeds: Empowering our Children with Ways to Protect the Environment while Cultivating the Earth

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Project and Thoughts

We are moving forward with our project, and have two potential schools that are interested in our program. We still need a more detailed curriculum, and after a meeting with Sue Sachs of the education department here at Barnard, we believe we may have to truncate our curriculum and perhaps only select one of the five topics we had planned.
We would really like to go on a field trip with the students, and Sue Sachs made it seem more than possible that we could get permission to do so. Going to a green market (in Union Square) or even our small street market on Broadway every Thursday would be interesting. She suggested sending the kids around to interview farmers, in pairs. I think that would be the most rewarding, actually talking to the people who are doing what we are trying to teach about. It shows very much the connections between humans and the environment, which is what we are trying to emphasize with our project.
In class we have discussed our culture's lack of that deep connection with the natural world. Our separation from green spaces, living in an urban environment, adds to that disconnect. But I don't think that means that we should all move out to the open spaces left in the country. I think it means we should reflect more, think more, and wonder more. We can only change ourselves and I think that our discussions in class are really helping each other to think differently and critically about various environmental issues I'm sure we have all contemplated before. Talking to each other, having conversation about things that matter to us, is such a big part of our life experience, as the book Turning to One Another (I think that's what it was called) said. I hope to gain a wider perspective through our sadly short classes and to deepen my understanding of myself, my fellow classmates, the environment, and how we are all connected.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Out of Reach Environment

I have just read in Abbey's Road, "Why so many want to read about the world out-of-doors, when it's more interesting simply to go for a walk into the heart of it, I don't fully understand. I suppose it is because the natural world, as we call it, has already become remote, out of reach, mysterious, in the minds of urban and suburban Americans." It's remarkable how much my own thoughts have recently mirrored Edward Abbey's ponderings. Especially because of this class and its readings, notably The Abstract Wild by Jack Turner, I have been questioning my own involvement with the environment. I have been increasingly dissatisfied with my current academic and objective relationship with the environment, and have been craving even a small taste of some real, visceral exposure to nature. Sadly, I cannot help but concede that, as Abbey presupposes, the natural world has become something remote to me, an urban American.
I think about the environment a lot; but what if I am not thinking about it the right way? As an Environmental Policy major at Barnard College, my days are full of Biology lab reports, lectures on the carbon cycle, and discussions about the conflict between poverty and environmentally sustainable behavior, amongst other academic pursuits of environmental understanding. For a year, I have been a co-head of my college's environmental action group; and, although someone else has recently taken over leadership of the club, I continue to speak at least weekly to faculty, administrators, staff, and students about environmental issues on campus such as recycling, energy efficiency, and purchasing local and other sustainably-grown foods. Further, many of my friends and even my boyfriend are environmentally-oriented types, and so I often talk about earthy issues outside of the classroom and the meeting space.
But despite all this earth-friendly involvement, I feel extremely disconnected from the root of all my activities: the earth, itself. Today I incidentally looked up from the street to the sky for a moment, and felt a sudden shock at seeing the blue expanse, and the clouds. I think I forget that the sky exists, living in New York; and when snow falls it seems so strange to me, like such a natural rush of beauty couldn't possibly belong in the city, or be allowed there. There must be something wrong, mustn't there be, when I forget that the sky exists?
When I read the works of Abbey, or Taylor, or Annie Dillard, and I catch glimpses of their transformative experiences being outside I am intoxicated with envy and want to throw down my books and catch a bus for somewhere, anywhere with some wide open spaces. I long to go camping. I've been telling everyone that I really, really want to be an intern for some not-for-profit environmental organization this summer; really, this is a bald-faced lie. Really, I want to hike the long trail with my boyfriend, snuggle with him under the stars and surrounded by trees everynight, to have to shiver when it gets cold and to have no place, no walls within which to hide from the things "out there" that scare me, like cold and animals scurrying in the brush nearby.
I do believe, ultimately, that if I want to create positive environmental change I will have to work within the system, to be well-educated, to consider economics and science and the rhetoric of politicians (or Barnard administrators, as is the case for me now.) I think that to relinquish myself to live in some hut in the woods, enjoying nature, would be unhelpful and unwise. But I do suspect that I need more of a balance than I have between physical experience of nature and the more intellectual and beaurocratic relationship I now pursue.

Getting our act together + Session 3 Details

Our environmental stewardship project is underway and we have begun planning our curriculum. We have chosen the agricultural process for our educational topic. Our program will include 5 sessions in a classroom at a local elementary school. The first four sessions will be taught by an individual team members. Each of us has selected a different topic:

1) Melissa--Melissa is going to talk about decomposition. What do plants need to grow?

2) Amanda--Amanda's session will center on how farmers grow food. What are the different methods involved in agriculture?

3) Justin--In my session, students will learn about the nutritional and environmental benefits of organic foods (see below).

4) Suzanne--Suzanne will discuss where our food goes. How can we reduce needless waste?

At the end of each session, the team member will distribute a hand-out to students with information for their parents on the session's topic. We also plan to include tips for families on how they can contribute to environmental awareness and conservation. Through these media, it is our hope that the environmental message demonstrated in the classroom will be reinforced in the home. Educating families is crucial in this process.

The last session will be a culminating activity, led by all of us, where students will have the opportunity to creatively share what they have learned.

Some more details about Session 3:

Session 3, the session that I am facilitating, will introduce students to the world of organic foods. Students will be handed a piece of construction paper. First, they will draw their favorite fruit or vegetable. Then, on the back, students will be asked to draw "chemicals." The idea is for students to understand what substances go into the food they eat. Next, I will ask a few students to share what they have drawn with the class. Hopefully, this will generate questions. A few questions I anticipate: What are chemicals? What kinds of chemicals go into our food? How do they get there? Why do we need them--or, why don't we need them?

In the second part of the session, I will give a brief lesson on the use of chemicals in agriculture. I will explain to the students what it means for a fruit or vegetable to be "organic." I will then present to them an organic piece of fruit as well as an inorganic piece of fruit, and they will be encouraged to guess which fruit is which. We will then discuss the benefits of organic agricultural methods, both for us and the environment. Finally, I will reveal which fruit is the organic one. The session will finish with a taste testing of organic fruit for the students.

Some considerations:

-I must find a local store (or marketplace) where I can buy organic fruit
-I must talk to the teacher in the classroom regarding the materials I will need (paper, markers, etc.)
-I must find out if there are students with any food allergies that might be of concern in this project
-I must create a lesson plan and materials that are on the students' level

I hope you have found our project overview and the details about my session informative. We would appreciate any feedback that our interested readers have to offer.

Be well,

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